Migrant children brought by bus to D.C. need help, not politics


When D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser announced that the city was about to end the use of local hotels to house homeless families, she spoke of “giving every family the support that they deserve.”

“What we know from this experience is that when we build citywide solutions to citywide challenges, we can build a more just and equitable DC—a DC that offers better opportunities to more families,” he said in a statement press that praised the phase. off the city’s reliance on hotels as “a major milestone” in the District’s plan to end homelessness.

That statement was made on August 13, 2020, and the city then proceeded to move the remaining families from the Days Inn on New York Avenue, a location that parents and advocates repeatedly described as not fit to raise children. It’s also the hotel where an 8-year-old homeless girl named Relisha Rudd was last seen with her kidnapper.

Two girls disappeared from the same DC shelter 8 years ago. One came back. The other was Relisha Rudd.

Two years later, the city is once again hosting children in this hotel. This time, they are the children of migrants who were bussed to the nation’s capital from Texas and Arizona in a political stunt that has created a local humanitarian crisis, according to mutual aid volunteers who have been helping the families.

These volunteers describe the children as stuck in the middle of partisan construction and without support from a city that does not want to claim them.

On Wednesday, following an announcement by Bowser that children arriving on migrant buses could attend city schools, Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee said about 40 migrant children are expected to enroll in the schools and they would they need access to services.

But volunteers from the mutual aid network that has been working closer to the families describe having to struggle to achieve this and say that on Monday, when schools across the District welcome pupils back, the children in the hotels they will not be among them. They say the city’s delay in allowing students to enroll and lack of support from city agencies has left families facing challenges that won’t allow students to start school on time or attend regularly. They say they worry about families who don’t have case managers, access to medical care, identification documents, an address they can put on paperwork or transportation to and from the isolated hotels.

Mariel Vallano, a D.C. high school ESL teacher who has been helping the families, said school officials worry every year that some children could go unnoticed and unenrolled if the screening isn’t done. outreach, but this is not the case for young people in hotels. The city knows they exist because it has housed them, he said.

“All the birth dates and full names of the children are documented,” Vallano said. He said the mayor and other city officials can’t say, “Oh, I didn’t know these kids had to enroll in school.”

Madhvi Bahl, an organizer with Sanctuary DMV and the Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network, said the city’s failure to support the families is not an “oversight.”

“This is a political choice, and people don’t slip through the cracks,” he said. “It’s like a tactic to starve them to death. If we don’t let them have access to education or health care, and make them live in hotels with nothing clean, they will eventually choose to leave. It’s definitely all planned.”

On Monday, the Defense Department denied a second request Bowser will deploy the National Guard to help the city deal with the thousands of asylum seekers who have been flown in from Texas and Arizona so far. More than 7,000 migrants have reportedly come from Texas alone after Gov. Greg Abbott (R) began sending the buses in April. In May, buses also began arriving from Arizona.

These exhibits were a statement to the Biden administration, but they have also provided a test for a mayor who had promised to get people off the streets and out of shelters. The migrants, many of whom have fled death threats and other dangers, have added to the city’s homeless count.

City leaders may not have asked for this problem, but now it is up to them to solve it, and they have the resources and ability to do so. Children who have arrived on these buses, and who will inevitably come on the next round, may stay for a week or a year or more. But while they are here, they are children of the city. They are our children. And they need help, not politics.

Bowser was right when he said, “When we build citywide solutions to citywide challenges, we can build a fairer and more equitable DC—a DC that provides better opportunities for more families.” But doing so requires action.

Following the Defense Department’s recent refusal to help, Bowser posted a series of tweets about the situation.

“We’re going to move forward with our planning to make sure that when people come through DC on their way to their final destination, we have a humane environment for them,” he said. he tweeted.

Your final destination. Those words were not lost on the mutual aid volunteers who have been tending, until exhaustion, to the needs of the arriving asylum seekers.

Bahl said city leaders want people to believe migrants are passing through the area, but many are staying.

The volunteers described dozens of families living at the Hampton Inn on New York Avenue, which is also used to quarantine people who test positive for the coronavirus or smallpox and have nowhere to go. They said plans call for those families to join others already at the Days Inn, but that environment is also not ideal for children. The conditions are limited and the area is isolated for families.

The District decided to do right by homeless children, but only after requests, concerns and questions

The last time I wrote about the New York Avenue hotels, hundreds of homeless children were living there and struggling to get to and from school. They had to cross busy traffic lanes to get to the nearest bus stop and take various forms of public transportation to schools spread across the city. As a solution, the city began offering a shuttle to take families to the nearest subway stations.

Vallano said a shuttle would be “extremely helpful” for families, but more support is also needed. Many of the families had their personal documents destroyed when they entered the country, and arrived with few belongings.

“Our main question is that unhoused migrant families receive the same level of support as other unhoused families,” Vallano said. “These families have chosen to stay here and need long-term support like any other family.”

He said the oldest of the children in the hotels is 17 years old and the youngest is less than a month old. She was in the hospital when the baby was born.

He helped the mother by filling out paperwork, talking to doctors and pediatricians, and driving her and the newborn home from the hospital. And then, because the families have been told not to use the hotel address on any documents, Vallano provided her own home address so the child’s Social Security card could be mailed .

“We get very involved because we have to,” he said. “There is no one else to help them.”

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